Friday, August 25, 2006

How Can You Pinch Hit for So Taguchi?
By Ben Valentine

How sweep it is.

If the Mets vs. Cardinals series at Shea Stadium this week was supposed to be a preview of things to come in the postseason, then the fans of the Amazins’ can sit back and let a broad smile form across their face. If this series showed anything, it showed the National League this:

The top of the class has room for one only.

Of course, regular season glory is worth nothing but the price of admission to the Show that is October baseball. What you do then is what defines a team and how it will be remembered. The three game sweep the Mets just completed over the St. Louis Cardinals sends a message, it makes a statement and yes, clearly illustrates how the upper echelon of NL Teams are divided. But it doesn’t give you entry to the World Series; it just increases the pressure on you to get there.

But that being said, we learned a bit about the Cardinals in this series, and for the finale of such an important regular season set of games, I felt I should go out to Shea. Or, I actually found someone who was willing to go. My high school buddy Patrick Lee is a pseudo Mets fan, one of those people who “love NY” and thus claim to pull for both teams. Needless to say, I’m always skeptical of that and my fears would prove valid early on.

After a quick stop in Flushing for some high quality Lucia’s Pizza, (right off the last stop on the 7 Train on Roosevelt Avenue, best pizza I’ve ever had, and Sportszilla endorsed!) we headed over to Shea. After parking by my grandmother’s apartment building on 113th street, since there’s no way anyone wants to pay 10 bucks for parking, Pat gets out and puts on…

A Yankees cap.

Now, anyone who reads me consistently knows I’m a Mets fan and have the reputation as the #1 Yankee hater in these parts. So you can imagine my dismay to see that the person I’m going with puts on their cap as I’m about to enter the holy house that is Shea Stadium. (Holy house is strong but it’s the only park I’ve ever known) Plus from my own experiences and those of others, I know Mets fans don’t like Yankee fans flaunting it in their house. Unfortunately, flaunt is Pat’s middle name.

Plus with my corn rows not in, I had a huge fro preventing my Mets hat from fitting on my head. Finally, I was wearing a navy colored shirt, making me look like the perfect accessory to a Yankees fan. Oh yes… it was going to be fun, I thought.

So with some dread, at least in my case, we walked on over to Shea in the midst of a rain storm. It had nearly abated by the time we got to the game, so it would only be a half hour delay until baseball. The classic pitching battle… Jason Marquis against Dave Williams. And by classic, I mean classically bad.

Well Marquis does have 13 wins. So what if he’s statistically the worst pitcher in the NL, right? It’s a shame Tom Glavine had to miss his start Tuesday, then the Mets could have thrown Steve Trachsel in this game! The worst two pitchers in the NL matched up in a battle for the NL lead in wins. But nope, Tommy G had to go and get a blood clot in his shoulder, forcing the Mets to move everyone up a day. So instead we get Dave Williams, who might be bad, but hasn’t been for as long as the aforementioned duo.

That had me thinking, what’s the worst pitcher and worst hitter I could see facing one another. The goal; create a horrific “Black Hole of Utter Suckage” which die hard baseball fans would grimace at upon seeing the match up, yet have to watch just to see who sucked less. Marquis was the obvious nominee for NL starting pitcher, and the regular who came to mind quickly was the Phillies’ Abraham Nunez of the .530 OPS (It's actually gotten worse since Tuesday!). Overall, it would probably be Nunez and Royals starter Scott Elarton, who did nothing but give up runs until a shoulder injury put him out for the season.

Nominees for the “Black Hole of Utter Suckage” are appreciated, and you can throw out any pitcher/batter combination, not just starters. (However no pitchers as hitters)

Meanwhile Pat’s Yankee hat didn’t exactly draw the ire of Mets fans as I had suspected it would. He showed it off to Yankee fans passing by, but that was about it. Guess the rain delay had weeded out the obnoxious blowhards, who probably don’t have the patience to sit one of those out.

Anyway there was a game after all, and it started amazingly enough without a run being scored in the 1st inning. You’d figure that was helped by the Cardinals batting So Taguchi in the two hole right? Well, he promptly doubled. The man I really came to see, Albert Pujols, smoked a ball off Williams to deep left that Pat and I both thought was long gone. But instead, Endy Chavez caught it at the edge of the warning track.

As a side note, one of the many that will be appearing in this, when I mentioned that I’ve heard many women think So Taguchi is good looking, Pat was shocked. His response; and this is completely verbatim:

“What the hell? He’s a 37 year old man who looks like a 15 year old girl.”

Back to the game. Dave Williams was your typical soft tossing lefty, with a video game-ish slow curve. Seriously; he was tossing it in a 64 mph. What was even weirder was that his fastball topped out at 87 and his change up frequently came in at 81. So there was no real difference between either pitch. Outside of the curve, he really had nothing. And yet the Cardinals top hitters struggled against him all night. Proves once again in one game anything is possible.

The Mets put the first two men on against Marquis, so I was figuring a four spot in the first was guaranteed. Then Carlos Beltran popped out and Carlos Delgado grounded into a double play, much to dismay of Pat’s fantasy team. But he said he’s downright abusing his league anyway. I’m not surprised… someone in his league just dealt Pujols and Mike Mussina for Chipper Jones and Bobby Jenks, two weeks after dealing Jason Giambi for Brad Lidge. That's horrid, I mean would you deal Jeremy Giambi for Lidge now... or two weeks ago? Still I could use some tips, my team is in second to last in the league me and the rest of the Sportszilla writers are in. To make matters more embarrassing, my co-owner and I are dropping like a stone. Unfortunately, none would take Lidge off our hands for Giambi. If it wasn’t for the fact Bryan’s team is falling even faster, we’d be guaranteed the number one pick next year.

However if you’d like tips on how to dominate a league, send your questions to John Schmeelk. He’s currently running away with ours.

In the second inning Shawn Green in his new #20 Mets’ jersey came to the plate with the fans chanting his name. It seems Lastings Milledge has made many enemies at Shea already this year. They’re probably just jealous he didn’t slap their hands.

Green smoked a ball, but Ron Belliard (who apparently thinks he’s “thugness incarnate”, just look at his pic) forgot he’s a miserable defensive second baseman and made a leaping grab. He flipped the ball back to Pujols to double up a stunned David Wright. Maybe it wouldn’t be the Mets night.

Then in the third, they remembered who was pitching.

Williams led off the inning by working a long at bat. I actually lost count of how many pitches Marquis threw to him; which is a very bad sign when the opposing pitcher is up. Williams was eventually called out on strikes, but things got a lot hotter for Marquis. After Jose Reyes singled again and then stole second, Paul LoDuca tripled him home with some help from Preston Wilson kicking the ball around in the corner like he was auditioning for US Soccer. Uh Preston, the World Cup was in June. Beltran and Delgado both walked which brought up Wright. The third baseman hit a deep fly to right, but Wilson caught it at the warning track. LoDuca scored to give the Mets a 2-0 lead. Finally Green endeared himself to Mets fans some more by singling home Beltran. 3-0 Mets.

Dave Williams then proceeded to hand the Cardinals two runs back in the fifth. After giving up a single to Aaron Miles, he gave up a long shot into the Cardinals bullpen to… wait for it… Gary Bennett. The Redbirds’ back up catcher was near the Mendoza line with one homer before that shot. It’s never easy is it?

Unless Jason Marquis is pitching.

This time, after a LoDuca infield single, Carlos Delgado proved his worth to Pat’s fantasy team and crushed a Marquis pitch past the Mets’ bullpen in rightfield. 450 feet was the estimated distance. The power is back. Whatever was affecting Delgado from May- July seems to be gone now and he’s smoking the ball again. If he’s on his game, the Mets are going to have the most formidable 3-5 in the NL.

We head to seventh, when the game was won/lost, depending on which team you’re talking about. After Aaron Miles singled again against Williams, Scott Spiezio, the most useless player in baseball last year, doubled. That put runners on second and third with one out. It also brought the soft tossing lefty’s night to an end as Willie Randolph went to Roberto Hernandez. Ron Belliard was up, So Taguchi was in the on deck circle and Pujols was in the hole. Lefty Pedro Feliciano was up in the pen, as Pat correctly pointed out, for Jim Edmonds and Chris Duncan, neither of whom were in the starting lineup. That had to be it, since the Cards didn’t have a lefty in the lineup.

Since I’m well aware of Tony LaRussa’s love affair with guys who shouldn’t be starting yet are, I responded with:

“HOW CAN YOU PINCH HIT FOR SO TAGUCHI???” (Yes, I mockingly yelled it)

Well Hernandez got Belliard on a foul pop out and thus denied him eventual entry into the Thug Mansion. That brought up the key spot in the game. That chap Albert was in the on deck circle as the potential go ahead run. He had seven RBI just two nights ago. You want someone who will keep the inning alive. You want your best up. Thus, Edmonds was getting his batting helmet right? Duncan had to be listening to his daddy about the ins and outs of Roberto Hernandez’s motion.

Nope. LaRussa apparently agrees the idea it is impossible to pinch hit for So Taguchi… a 37 year old defensive outfielder. Brilliant managing again Tony.

Hernandez got Taguchi on strikes. Pujols would lead off the next inning, a threat to give the Cardinals nothing but one run when they were down by three. And finally in a twist of ridiculous irony, what does LaRussa do?

He then immediately double switches Taguchi out of the game for Spezio!

You can’t make this stuff up. You just can’t.

I was all looking forward to making a lot of jokes about “Enter Sandman” when Billy Wagner would come into the game in the ninth, except it never happened. When the Mets scored a run in the 8th, it made it a four run game, so Randolph decided against using Wagner. Instead we got Guillermo Mota, who looks a lot like disgraced former Baseball Tonight analyst Harold Reynolds. At least I think he does.

Mota got the first two Cardinals out. That brought up Chris Duncan as the pinch hitter, a full two innings too late. Maybe Tony was hoping for a do-over or something. Well Mota struck him out to end it. To quote Matt Vasgersian in MLB ’06: The Show:

“St. Louis; Good Night.”

Up next come the Phillies, who just might knock the Cardinals out of the postseason if the Redbirds aren’t careful. The resurgent Phils are just 1.0 back of the Reds for the Wild Card and just 2.5 back of St. Louis should Cincinnati take the NL Central. Tony LaRussa better be careful, if he keeps handing games away by pitching an ineffective Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis along with putting up So Taguchi in big spots, the Cards might not gain admittance to the Show come October. Thankfully, the Mets look to be pretty much there, and that is half the battle.

And so, no pun intended, I leave you with this, the biggest thing I learned Thursday night:

“How can you pinch hit for So Taguchi?”

“You don’t, unless you’re actually trying to win a ball game.”


Anonymous The 26th Man said...

I'm a week late in coming across this post, but you're right. Letting Tags bat in that situation was a stupid decision in a season filled with same.

From his roster construction to his aversion to youth to trotting out a spent Mulder and a worthless Marquis over and over to letting his LOOGys pitch to righties to etc. ad infinitum, Tony La Russa has brought micromanaging to horrible new lows.

I've never been a TLR hater, but this season he's worn out his welcome with me. Bring on The Secret Weapon!

2:18 PM  

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